Monday, February 27, 2017

A Scandalous Deception


Astwick House, London – May 1816
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Lady Felicity Pierce could not quite believe her eyes. Was that Phineas Granard? Viscount Carraway? At an actual ball? Heavens, was someone blackmailing Fin, or was there a dueling pistol to his back? He certainly wouldn’t be here of his own volition, that was for sure. The overly serious viscount hadn’t been remotely social in years, despite Lissy’s best prodding that he stop sulking and get on with his life. 
Fin started across the ballroom and greeted Lord Liverpool with an outstretched hand. Ah, that explained everything. Fin wasn’t being blackmailed, and he hadn’t suddenly become social. He was doing what he always did - politicking. 
“The dolt is more starched than his cravat,” came a deep voice from behind her.
Lissy glanced over her shoulder to find the decidedly despicable Marquess of Haversham standing just a few feet away. Handsome devil that he was, the marquess’ light blue eyes twinkled as he cast her a smug expression, one that a more foolish girl might have found charming. But Lissy had endured more than her share of that sort of man to last her a lifetime, so Haversham’s attention was completely wasted on her. 
She gave the marquess the back of her head, but said loud enough for him to hear, “I’m entirely certain Lady Astwick didn’t invite you, my lord.”
Lord Haversham chuckled, moving closer to Lissy, so close the scent of his citric shaving lotion invaded her senses. “She never does,” he agreed. 
“An intelligent man might make something of that. His continual lack of invite, that is.” And yet the scoundrel attended every last event the dowager Marchioness of Astwick hosted anyway, as though daring the old dragon to personally drag him, kicking and screaming all the way to her front stoop.
Haversham laughed once more. “You are more direct than most chits your age. Do you know that?”
“My widowhood allows for a certain directness.”
“Among other things,” he added silkily. “But I imagine your directness stems more from being one of Prestwick’s daughters. Not certain you’re quite as direct as Lady Juliet, but she does possess a fortune you do not, doesn’t she?”
Lissy didn’t need her sister’s fortune. Fin had made certain her allowance from Prestwick’s holdings was more than generous. She glanced back at the staid viscount across the ballroom. He was starched. Haversham was right about that. And while she had accused Fin of that very thing herself more than once over the years, she hated hearing the disreputable Haversham voice the same criticism. 
She tilted her head to the side in order to better see the marquess. “Shouldn’t you be off chasing after Lady Staveley’s skirts?” The lady in question wouldn’t have a thing to do with him, but at least it would get the rogue away from Lissy.
Haversham’s rakish grin spread wider. “I have no need to chase anyone’s skirts, I’ll have you know.”
No, he probably didn’t. The man was more than handsome with his dark hair and light, piercing eyes. He exuded masculinity and raw sexuality. Despite his fascination with Lady Staveley – a most happily married woman who was quite devoted to her husband - Haversham most likely had a throng of widows and unhappily married women lining up for a turn in his bed. Widows. 
Lissy narrowed her eyes on the libertine. Her widowhood did allow for a certain directness. However, it also had been the source for more than one inappropriate suggestion to her over the years. “I am so happy to hear that, my lord. Perhaps you can go entertain one of your many paramours then and leave me to myself.”
Haversham chuckled. “You are charming, Lady Felicity.”
“And here I’m trying so hard not to be.”
“A word of advice?” His light eyes twinkled once again.
“Could I possibly stop you?” she countered.
“If you smile a bit more, Carraway might actually notice you.”
Lissy’s mouth fell open. Did he think she wanted Fin’s attention? Fin was like family. He was, in fact, her half-brother’s uncle. He had, in fact, almost married Lissy’s oldest sister before her untimely death. He would have been her brother otherwise. He was nearly like her brother as it was, for heaven’s sake. A rigid, humorless brother who liked to tell her what to do, but a brother just the same. 
“I doubt it would take much encouragement. You are supremely more beddable than Liverpool, after all.”
What a perfectly ridiculous thing to say. “Well, I am so relieved to hear it as I’d considered Lord Liverpool my main competition on the marriage mart this year.”
Haversham laughed once more, a sound Lissy was quickly coming to despise. “Something tells me the last thing you’re looking for is another husband.” 
For a moment, Lissy’s heart stopped, and a dreadful chill washed over her. At her tender age, everyone assumed she wanted to marry again, to have a second chance at a happily ever after, but even if that was a possibility, she would never willingly go through such an experience ever again. But how in the world did Haversham know that? Was she so very transparent to everyone or just to him?
“That is, I’d wager you’re as anxious to find another husband as I am to find another wife.”
“Your own wife or someone else’s?” she asked.
“Touché.” His eyes danced with mirth, then he sobered a bit, cocking his head toward the dance floor. “One of your suitors, I’m sure.”
Lissy glanced in the general direction Haversham had indicated and suppressed a groan when she spotted Lord Richard Shelley approaching her. 
“I’ll give Carraway this. He’s more interesting than him,” the marquess said under his breath, just loud enough for Lissy to hear. 
She looked up at the scoundrel beside her and said, “I’m not certain you’re the best judge for what constitutes an interesting gentleman, my lord.”
“My dear Lady Felicity—” he smirked “—I am more qualified than most to make such assessments.”
“Lady Felicity,” Lord Richard began softly once he reached her. “I had hoped I might persuade you to stand up with me for the next set.”
Lissy smiled, as warmly as she was able, at the far-from-interesting gentleman before her. “Thank you, my lord, but I’m not dancing this evening. I am a bit parched however, if you’d like to bring me some punch.”
A bit crestfallen, Lord Richard nodded and then started off for the refreshment table. 
Haversham slid so close to Lissy she could actually feel him chuckle beside her. “I think you wounded that poor man’s heart.”
“I’m certain he’ll survive.”
“Heartless wench. I’m liking you better and better.”
* * *
“Good God!” Phineas Granard, Viscount Carraway, couldn’t quite see straight as the edges of his vision were tinged slightly red. 
“Beg your pardon, Carraway?” Lord Liverpool replied, but Fin barely heard the Prime Minister. 
Honestly, with the ringing in his hears, he couldn’t even hear himself think. What the devil was Lissy doing? Had she lost her fool mind? Was she actually flirting with the Marquess of Haversham? 
Fin gritted his teeth. Keeping that chit out of trouble was a never-ending chore. He cursed Lucas Beckford for holing himself up in Derbyshire. The blasted man should be here keeping an eye on Lissy, not playing nursemaid to Juliet. All right, so the man’s wife was expecting, Fin begrudgingly acknowledged. Beckford did have a perfectly reasonable excuse not to be in Town for the season, but why the devil he and Juliet had allowed Lissy to stay in London alone made no sense at all. They knew what a flighty little thing she was! And now she was cavorting with Haversham, of all the damned people in Town. 
Truthfully, Lissy probably didn’t know how dangerous the marquess was. Very few ladies her age did, but she was most definitely aware Haversham possessed a blackened reputation. Everyone was aware of that. Good God, Georgie would roll over in her grave if she knew the company her little sister was keeping this evening. 
Fin took a steadying breath. One would have thought that sometime within the last three years, he’d have gotten over her, that the pain of losing her would have dulled a bit, that he’d have made a step or two towards getting on with his life. But he hadn’t. Fin wasn’t certain how to move forward or if he even wanted to. Georgie had been everything to him. She was perfect. Perfect for him. He could search the world over a hundred times and he’d never find a woman like her in his lifetime. 
Fin’s gaze stayed on Lissy, her flaxen curls bobbing up and down as she laughed at something her scurrilous companion had said. How the devil she and Georgie were sired by the same man was a complete mystery. The two of them must have inherited the traits from their respective mothers. That was the only answer. They didn’t think the same, behave the same or even look the same. Yet, Georgie had fretted over all of her younger siblings, more like a mother than a sister. If she were still here, she would have been more than upset by Lissy’s sudden friendship with Haversham. 
“I say, Carraway,” Lord Liverpool’s voice pushed through the deafening roar in Fin’s ears. “Are you all right?”
Fin shook his head, not wanting to go into the particulars, but he didn’t really have a choice. “It looks like my nephew’s sister is in over her head, is all.”
Lord Liverpool turned his attention towards Lissy and Haversham across the room. “Prestwick’s sister?”
Fin nodded. “I am sorry, sir. I’d love to continue this conversation, but I really—”
“I completely understand, Carraway. I have female relations my own.”
Lissy wasn’t really his relation, but there was no point in wasting time explaining the intricacies of his connection to the chit. Not when she was looking up at Haversham as though he’d personally hung the moon in the sky. “Thank you. I’ll see you soon, sir.” 
Fin started across the ballroom, his temper rising with each step. Foolish girl. What in the world was Lissy thinking? Was she even thinking at all, that was a better question! Spending time in Haversham’s company could ruin nearly any girl’s reputation. Just because she was a widow didn’t mean she didn’t have her good name to protect. 
“Lissy,” he grumbled in way of greeting when he reached her. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”
“Carraway.” Haversham nodded. 
Fin speared the malevolent marquess with a look that said better than words ever could what the man could go do with himself, then he turned his attention back to Lissy, whose blue eyes flashed with something Fin couldn’t quite identify. Annoyance, humor, mischievousness. A combination of the three, perhaps.
“Uncle Fin.” She smiled innocently, though she knew full well he hated it when she called him that. 
“I’m not your uncle,” he said, and if he had a farthing for every time he’d had to utter those words to her…
“You can call me Uncle Marc, if you’d like,” Haversham tossed in. The suggestive tone to the man’s voice grated Fin’s nerves like an electric jolt to his nether regions.

“She’ll call you no such thing,” Fin growled. He narrowed his eyes on the marquess. “In fact, she shouldn’t even be seen in your presence.” Then he gestured towards the main entrance with his head. “So why don’t you take your leave, Haversham?”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Promises Made


April 1816 – Hyde Park, London
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Lady Elspeth MacLaren’s morning could not have been better. Not only was it a bright, sunny day – a rarity, most certainly – and not only had she recently acquired her older brother’s vow to attend the remaining social functions of the Season – a feat thought impossible a mere sennight ago – but strolling down Rotten Row, in the opposite direction, and staring quite pointedly at her, was the most devastatingly handsome man in all of London. And he was most definitely the reason Ellie was in Hyde Park today. 
Sebastian Alder, the oh-so-handsome-and-charming Earl of Peasemore. Just the sight of him could make her heart flutter and her breath catch. 
Lord Peasemore touched the brim of his beaver hat in greeting, his hazel eyes twinkling a bit devilishly, and Ellie somehow managed not to stumble or faint. She didn’t even outwardly sigh. Doing so would only tip her hand and that was the very last thing she intended to do. No, with a man like Peasemore, one had to be witty, crafty, and make him think that falling in love with her was all his idea.  He was halfway in love with her as it was. After all, he wasn’t tipping his hat to anyone else along the row, now was he? 
She did allow the briefest smile to grace her lips before she and Sophie Hampton passed the earl as they continued on the path before them. Thankfully Sophie waited all of two minutes before she whispered, “He looked right at you.”
Ellie’s heart lifted at the memory, though it was only moments ago. Still, she would think about that look, that tip of his hat the rest of the day. Now if only she could somehow devise a way to learn which event the earl planned to attend this evening. It would be nice if Ian could ferret out that sort of information, but her brother was still ill-humored at having been out-witted into attending the remaining functions of the Season with her. He would not be in the mood to conduct espionage, no matter how little effort it would take, on her behalf. 
She cast a sidelong glance at Sophie and wished her friend was in the possession of a brother who might be of assistance. Cousins Sophie had in spades, but nary a brother to be found. More’s the pity. Still, it couldn’t hurt to make an inquiry, could it? Ellie smiled at her friend and said, “You don’t have any plans to see Mr. Winslett today, do you?”
Sophie giggled. “Isn’t it enough you have Lord Peasemore’s notice? Now you want Chase Winslett’s attention too?”
Mr. Winslett was hardly Ellie’s sort. For one thing, he didn’t seem the least bit devilish and for another, he…Well, he wasn’t the heir to anything. Ellie could never utter those last words aloud, however. They would make her sound like the worst sort of social climber.  But she was the daughter of the late Earl of Ericht and sister to the current earl. She hadn’t begged, manipulated, and pleaded her way out of Scotland only to end up married to some Englishman without a title. What a complete waste of her efforts that would be. “I only thought he might be persuaded to find out which event Lord Peasemore planned on attending this evening.”
“Heavens,” Sophie muttered under her breath. “And that officer over there—” she cocked her head slightly towards the right “—can’t seem to take his eyes off you.”
Officer? Ellie glanced in the direction Sophie had indicated and standing next to a park bench stood not one, but two army officers in regimentals, and… Oh, good heavens! It couldn’t be! Her eyes locked with his, and her heart leapt. 
Griffin Reid! 
Was it really?
Without a thought about decorum, Ellie unlinked her arm with Sophie’s and bolted across Rotten Row. “Griffin Reid!” she cried, then she threw her arms around the army captain’s neck. Heavens, it had been too long since she’d seen him. And how wonderful it was to see him now! Griff’s arms tightened a bit around her waist, and she tightened hers about his neck.
“Elspeth,” Sophie said from behind her, “you’re making a scene.”
“Oh!” She probably was. Ellie slid from Griff’s embrace and smiled up at him. He was indeed, a sight for sore eyes. Heavens, how long had it been? “I just couldn’t believe it was ye! I thought ye were at Achmore. Ian will be so glad to hear ye’re in Town. How long are ye staying? Ye must come to MacLaren House this afternoon!” Her words all flew out in a rush, but she couldn’t help it. How wonderful to see him, so whole and hale and standing right before her. 
“Afternoon, Ellie,” Griff grumbled faintly.
“Oh, good heavens!” she gushed. “Ye hardly look like yourself.” And he didn’t. Griffin Reid had left the shores of Lake Ericht a small, skinny lad with bony knees all those years ago. But now, standing before her, was quite an impressive sight as far as Highlanders went. He’d filled out quite nicely since she’d seen him last. His shoulders were twice as broad, and he must have grown nearly a foot. And handsome, he was most definitely handsome in a dangerous sort of way. His dark hair that brushed the top of his collar, his silvery eyes that seemed as though they’d seen quite a bit of the world. But then, that probably came from years spent upon one battlefield or another and trekking across the continent for nearly a decade. 
“I could say the same about ye,” Griff returned softly as his eyes appraised her from the top of her head to the tips of her slippers. A bit of awareness washed over Ellie and her cheeks warmed.  Of all the people she expected to see today, Griffin Reid was not one of them. And how dashing he looked in his regimentals. 
“Who is this, Elspeth?” Sophie asked, breaking Ellie from her reverie.
“Sophie, this –” she smiled at Griff  “—is Captain Griffin Reid. He’s a neighbor and an old friend of the family.” Then she turned her attention to the other fellow, a tall dark-haired man standing with Griff and said, “And, well, I don’t know ye, sir.” 
“Lady Elspeth MacLaren, Lord Healeyfield.” Griff gestured between the two of them with a sweep of his hand.
“She hardly looks like a bairn to me.” Lord Healeyfield lifted his brow in amusement. Though what that meant, Ellie had no idea, nor did she truly care. It was hard to focus on anything other than Griffin Reid at the moment.
“No one asked you,” Griff muttered under his breath.
Ellie felt Sophie’s eyes on her and she glanced towards the girl. “Oh, and this is my friend, Miss Sophia Hampton,” she said as she once again linked her arm with her friend’s. “Sophie, Captain Reid and Lord Healeyfield.”
“A pleasure to meet you both.” His lordship nodded in greeting. 
Griff grunted something, but Ellie couldn’t quite hear what. He was behaving oddly. Was he not happy to see her?  He had been at first, hadn’t he? Had she said something that annoyed him?
“I am hoping you can be of assistance,” Lord Healeyfield said, breaking Ellie of her reverie. “We are looking for someone.”
Perhaps that explained Griff’s odd behavior. “Someone?” Ellie echoed, her eyes darting back to the strapping Highlander. “Who?”
Griff heaved a sigh and said, “We’re trying to find Miss Throssell, Ellie. If ye see her, do point her out please.”
Miss Throssell? Ellie blinked up at the handsome captain. Why in the world would he be looking for that odd girl? “Wilhelmina Throssell?” she clarified.
“Indeed.” Griff nodded, his jaw firmly set. 
Ellie’s heart squeezed a bit. “Why are you looking for her?” And how would he even know her? Wilhelmina Throssell was the strangest girl of Ellie’s acquaintance. Always speaking nonsense and keeping to herself. Odd in every way. Certainly not someone who should have ever captured Griff’s notice. That he should be looking for her didn’t make any sense at all.
“Have ye seen her or not, Ellie?”
“I don’t see her right this moment,” she returned, hoping she kept the waspishness from her voice. But really, that was slightly difficult to do. Griff seemed more than determined to find Miss Thorssell for some reason, but didn’t look pleased in the least to have stumbled upon Ellie instead. That wasn’t terribly complimentary, all things considered. “Why are ye looking for her, Captain Reid?” she asked once more.
Griff shrugged. “We served under her father. We heard she was in the park today and just wanted to say hello is all.”
Served under her father? An odd reason to seek someone out. In fact, it didn’t sound as though Griff knew anything about the girl, other than her name. Why would he want her to point Miss Throssell out otherwise? “Hmm.” There was definitely something he wasn’t telling her. Ellie leveled her eyes on the captain, hoping she could figure him out as well as she’d once been able to do. “Ye wanted to say hello to her, but ye don’t know what she looks like. Am I understanding ye perfectly?”
“Just point out the girl’s direction, Ellie,” Griff growled.
He was most definitely up to something, but she wouldn’t get the answer out of him by simply asking. That was quite obvious. So she’d just have to find out using a different tactic. Ellie shrugged coyly. “I’ll be happy to help ye, Griffin, b—”
“How very kind of you,” he cut her off.
“But,” she pressed forward, “I need a little help myself.”
“Of course ye do. What do ye want, Ellie?” He folded his arms across his chest, just like he always had when he was being more than stubborn.
She shrugged once more, determined not to seem flustered by his temperament. Besides, she did need something and Griff was the perfect man to help her with her current predicament. “Well, I was hoping someone could find out which event a certain earl planned on attending this evening. I would ask Ian to help me, but he’s being rather difficult of late.”
Griff’s mouth dropped slightly open. “A certain earl?” he echoed incredulously. Not that he had any reason in the world to sound that way. He was the one searching out the very strange Miss Throssell and being rather evasive about his motives, after all. 
“The Earl of Peasemore to be exact,” she told him. “If ye could learn his plans, I would be quite happy to help ye locate Miss Throssell.” Well, not quite happy, but Griff didn’t need to know that part. 
Griff’s jaw tightened. “Ye haven’t changed one bit.”
She flashed him her most charming smile. “Does that mean we have a deal?”
Griff snorted in response. “Making deals with MacLarens never turns out well for anyone.”
“What an uncharitable thing to say.” Ellie tipped her nose slightly higher in the air. “I am happy to help ye, Captain Reid. It’s only fair I should get a little help in return, don’t ye agree?”
“Never mind. We’ll find her on our own,” Griff replied as his gaze turned to the pedestrians walking along the row. 
Blast he was stubborn! One way or the other she would find out what he wanted with Wilhelmina Throssell, and one way or the other she was going to get his assistance with Lord Peasemore. 
Ellie batted her eyelashes. “Please, Griff,” she said, stepping closer to him. “Ye could easily find out for me. All ye’d have to do is go to one of the clubs he frequents and ask the question. That’s all.”
“What do ye want with this Peasemore?”
“Well, that’s none of yer concern,” she retuned quickly. Besides, why should she tell him her plans for Lord Peasemore if he wouldn’t share his for Miss Throssell? “But if ye help me, I’ll help ye in return.”
Griff glanced over his shoulder at Lord Healeyfield. “I do hope ye realize what a good friend I am.” He didn’t wait for his lordship to respond, but turned back to Ellie and said, “I’ll find out about Peasemore. Now tell him—” he cocked his head towards Lord Healeyfield “—where we can find Miss Throssell.”
Well, that was something. At least she’d find out which event Lord Peasemore meant to attend. She smiled brightly at Lord Healeyfield. “She keeps very much to herself, my lord. I don’t believe I have ever seen her walk along Rotten Row. In fact, I’m not certain if I have ever seen her outside of a ballroom, but even then she stays to the far edges as though she’s afraid someone will speak to her.”
A crease settled on his lordship’s brow. “She was supposed to be here. In the park today. She must be here.”
Ellie wasn’t certain why they would think such a thing, but the idea was most definitely a ludicrous once. “I haven’t seen her.”
“Neither have I,” Sophie added. “But perhaps she isn’t walking the row. Perhaps she’s enjoying a picnic or talking to the squirrels or something like that.”
That did sound like something Miss Throssell would do. 
“Talking to the squirrels?” Lord Healeyfield echoed, incredulity lacing his words.
“That is possible,” Ellie agreed. “She did tell me once that one only had to pay attention to what birds were saying. I thought it was some sort of metaphor, but after giving it more thought, I do believe she meant actual birds and not something else.”
His lordship’s frown deepened. “We are talking about the same lady? Wilhelmina Throssell.”
Ellie nodded. “I don’t imagine there are two of them.” Just the idea made a chill race up her spine. 
Lord Healeyfield heaved an unhappy sigh. “Can you at least tell me what she looks like?”
This entire exchange was very odd. Almost as odd as Miss Throssell herself.
“She has dark hair,” Sophie said. “She usually wears it in a chignon.”
“Light eyes. Grey, silver, light blue. Something like that. I’m not entirely sure,” Ellie added. “She’s slender, about my height. A nice smile, though she doesn’t smile all that much.”
“She’d be pretty if…” Sophie shrugged. “Well, if she wasn’t so odd.”
Truer words were never spoken. Miss Throssell was pretty, until one spent time with her. Then one couldn’t quite look at her the same any longer. 
“I suppose we should see if we can find her,” Griff said. “And if that should fail, we do know she’ll be at the Ridgemonts’ this evening.”
The duo was quite adamant about finding Miss Throssell, which made less sense the more Ellie thought about it. She certainly didn’t believe that Banbury Tale about wanting to say hello to the girl simply because they’d served under her father. They had some sort of agenda. Very odd, that. But she’d find out what Griff was up to, one way or another. 

“Griff,” she began, making her voice a bit more breathy than it had been up ‘til now. “When ye learn where Lord Peasemore plans to be this evening, do come to MacLaren House to tell me. I’m certain Ian would love to see ye.” And without Lord Healeyfield or Sophie Hampton about, she’d get the truth out of him, once and for all. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

In The Stars


April 1816 – London
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Nathaniel Carrick, the 1st Viscount Healeyfield, sat behind his rented desk, staring at a pile of bills and cursing the day he was granted entrance into the peerage. He had neither asked for nor wished for a Royal Commendation. And he certainly hadn’t lobbied for a leaky abbey in County Durham to go along with his new viscountcy. None of that was neither here nor there at this point, however, but Nathaniel had no idea how he was to keep Healeyfield Abbey afloat. He certainly couldn’t do so with what was left of his officer’s commission. 
He scratched his brow, wondering what he could possibly sell, just to stay solvent. If he had a lucky bone in his body, he might try his fortunes at a Hazard table. But Nathaniel had never been terribly lucky in games of chance, and he couldn’t imagine squandering away what little he did have on the roll of a pair of dice. Not for the first time over the last sennight, he was plagued with the unfortunate truth that managing a battlefield was immeasurably easier than managing an estate. Life had been much simpler in the army. Things had made some modicum of sense. But this—
“Nate, ye’re not going to make me call ye Lord Holy-whatever-ye-are-now, are ye?” his old friend Captain Griffin Reid asked from the threshold. 
Nathaniel glanced from his desk to the tall Scot who was leaning quite casually against the doorjamb. “Healeyfield,” he grumbled. “But from now on you can just refer to me as ‘Oh Great One’.”
“Very well, Oh Great One,” Griff chuckled, “Ye’re looking rather glum this afternoon. Did ye just get word ol’ Boney is back in control of the French army?”
Would that he was. At that unpatriotic thought, Nathaniel snorted. “At least if that were true I wouldn’t have to waste my time on this stack of rubbish.” He gestured dismissively towards the mound of bills on his desk. 
Griff pushed away from the door and sauntered further into the study.  “That ol’ pile of stones again, huh?”
Healeyfield Abbey. He’d never forget the moment he rode up to his new estate. The sun had settled on the old place just right, casting it in a warm glow and instilling more than a bit of pride in Nathaniel’s heart. Healeyfield Abbey was his. A legacy. Something of merit to be passed from one generation of his line of Carricks to the next. But the sun had settled behind the clouds, and the extent of the abbey’s dilapidated state hit Nathaniel like a ball in his chest. “Easy for you to be dismissive. You won’t lose every farthing you ever earned.”
Griff shrugged. “So ye marry Throssell’s daughter. Ye promised to do so anyway.” 
Nathaniel glared at his friend. Marrying a girl he’d never met was not high on his list of wants. At the time of the agreement, he’d simply wanted to ease the old Colonel’s mind before the man passed. He hadn’t imagined his commanding officer would have survived his wounds and actually wanted to see his only daughter become the 1st Viscountess Healeyfield. Though to be fair, Colonel Throssell had only wanted to see his only daughter become Mrs. Carrick at the time. “I don’t see you rushing off to marry your intended.”
The Scotsman heaved a sigh. “I went straight to Scotland upon our return, only to discover the MacLarens were in London.”
“You’re in London now.”
“True.” Griff dropped into a chair in front of Nathaniel’s desk. “But I could wait another decade before having to deal with Ericht. Besides, Ellie’s a child, Nate. A bairn, really. There’s no hurry.” 
Nathaniel, however, was in a hurry. Not to marry some girl he’d never met, but to figure out a solution to his Healeyfield Abbey situation. The sooner, the better. 
Besides, he hadn’t given much thought at all to his own intended as he had every intention of allowing Miss Throssell the opportunity to cry off. The girl shouldn’t be forced into a marriage she hadn’t sought, one she probably didn’t even want with some fellow she didn’t even know. “I suppose I should make an appointment to see Throssell and get this over with.”
Griff nodded in agreement. “I suppose ye should. Seems to me he’s anxious to see his daughter settled and—”
“—I’m not going to hold her to this betrothal, Griff.” Nathaniel leveled his friend with a glare that said the matter wasn’t up for debate.
Bewilderment flashed across the Scot’s face. “The girl is the answer to yer problems, Nate. Throssell is in possession of a fortune and ye’re in need of one.”
That was neither here nor there. Nathaniel raked a hand through his hair. “It’s hardly fair to her.”
“Fair?” Griff snorted. “She’ll become Lady Holy-whatever-ye-are-now.”
“Healeyfield,” Nathaniel growled, not that the sound dissuaded Griff from continuing. 
“Besides, isn’t that what yer class does?” the Scot asked pointedly. “Marry for money and land in exchange for a title or to right some wrong?”
His class, indeed. Though Nathaniel’s grandfather was an earl, his own father had been but a lowly vicar, the youngest of seven brothers who had instilled a strong work ethic in his own sons. His grandfather might have purchased Nathaniel’s commission, but it was the only thing the old man had ever bestowed upon his youngest grandson, which was perfectly fine with Nathaniel. Taking charity from his grandfather or anyone else for that matter pricked at his pride. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself…Or rather he had been until the albatross that was Healeyfield Abbey was strung about his neck. 
If Griff hadn’t once saved Nathaniel’s life from a French sword about to pierce his lung, he would have happily crushed his fist into the Scot’s nose. As it was, Griff had saved his life, so Nathaniel only narrowed his eyes once more on his friend. “Go bugger off.” 
As was his nature, Griff leaned back in his chair and chuckled heartily. Damn him. “Ye’ve never been the sentimental sort. Marry the girl. Get it over with. Then go about repairing the ol’ pile of stones Prinny decided to bestow ye with for yer bravery.”
The very idea gnawed at his soul. It seemed so ignoble, so sycophantic, so disingenuous.
“What if ye like the lass? What if she wants to marry ye?” Griff pressed. 
That seemed too easy, too convenient. Nathaniel sent his friend a look that suggested such an idea was not terribly probable. 
Griff shrugged in response. “Just seems to me, ye might want to find out if ye’d rub along well before ye dissolve yer betrothal. She could very well be the answer to yer prayers.”
The Scot did have a point. What if he and Miss Throssell could rub along well? His problems would be solved rather easily, if that was the case. Besides, there were few men Nathaniel admired as much as he did Colonel Throssell. It only stood to reason that man’s daughter must be estimable in her own right. The true question was whether or not they were compatible, whether or not they could build a future together, whether or not she would think him a fortune hunter. Nathaniel didn’t think he could live with the latter. “I suppose I should meet her first,” he finally conceded.
A grin spread across Griff’s face. “I knew ye’d come to yer senses. The Throssells’ll be at the Ridgemont ball this evening.”
A ball. Nathaniel managed not to groan. 
“Or we could stumble upon her before then.”
Nathaniel narrowed his eyes once more on the Scot. “Before then?”
Griff shrugged. “She’s currently on a walk in Hyde Park. If we go now, Throssell won’t even be around to try and influence either of ye.”
“How the devil do you know where she is right now?” Had Griff taken to spying on the poor girl? That hardly seemed like him. 
Again, his friend chuckled. “I just came from Throssell’s. Heard the butler inform the colonel that his daughter had just left for the park.”
“You would have made a fine scout.”

Griff dusted the appellate on his shoulder. “I think I make a perfectly fine captain, thank ye very much.”


Monday, February 6, 2017

Encounter With an Adventurer


The British Museum – April 1816
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Andrew Yeats, Viscount Brookfield, didn’t have to look long or hard to find his quarry. As soon as he stepped over the threshold into the museum’s reading room, he spotted his friend sitting close to the door, his nose in a book, apparently oblivious to anyone and everything around him. 
Drew bit back a smile as he said, “So this is where Scotsmen go and hide to avoid paying their debts.” 
Ian MacLaren, the Earl of Ericht, bolted upright in his wooden chair and turned his surprised gaze to Drew, just a few feet away. “I sent over a bank draft yesterday. Ye didn’t receive it?”
Drew flashed his friend a wide grin. “I just thought you might like to start paying me in advance. Might make it easier on you in the end.”
“Ye can go to hell,” Ian replied without heat. Then he shook his head. “Yer uncle was the unluckiest fellow I ever known. Are ye sure ye’re related?”
Drew’s stomach twisted at the mention of his late uncle. Unfortunately, he was related to the man, more closely than anyone knew, however. Thank God for that last bit. Being George Yeats’ nephew was bad enough. If anyone knew Drew was the villain’s bastard, his life wouldn’t be worth living. 
Forcing down the bile that rose up in his throat whenever his uncle was mentioned, Drew shrugged. “Must get all my luck from my mother’s family.” Though that was far from the truth too. His mother had never experienced a lucky day in her life, as far as he was aware.  Luck, apparently, was not something one could inherit.  “I wanted to see if you were heading down to Albourne’s tomorrow. I’ve got an extra seat in my coach.”
Ian shook his head. “I promised Elspeth I’d escort her to Lady Staveley’s ball tomorrow.”
Drew couldn’t help but chuckle. If there was one place he couldn’t picture the burly Scot it was attending a marriage mart ball. In fact, his friend had avoided such events as though they were the plague. “Lose a bet with your sister?” he guessed.
“Finally gave in to her wailing and constant pleading.” Ian snorted. “And she’s easier to please than Catriona. God save me when that little imp is old enough to attend these damned affairs.”
“Well, perhaps your luck will change, and you’ll meet the lady of your dreams tomorrow night then,” Drew teased. 
“So she can spend the half of my fortune I havena already lost to ye?” Ian folded his arms across his chest. “Nay, I’d sooner stick my own spoon in the wall.”
Before Drew could reply to that, a waspish voice echoed in the corridor behind him. “You are the most willful girl in existence,” a woman complained. “For the last time, stand up straight!”
He and Ian exchanged a surprised look before Drew glanced over his shoulder to find a tall, plump, and scowling woman yanking the arm of a much more petite lady.
“I am standing up straight,” the smaller lady bit out, her brown curls bobbing up and down as the chit thrust her chin upward, petulantly standing her ground against her tormentor. She did have spirit, Drew would give her that. The girl was also quite lovely with warm hazel eyes and a heart-shaped face. She hardly looked like the most willful girl in existence. She looked more like a lively pixie or charming sprite.
“You’re so short one can hardly tell,” the imposing harridan returned. 
“I suppose all I can do is pray for height then,” the pretty brunette replied cheekily, “as there’s not much else I can do about the situation.”
The plump woman’s face turned a bit red as she sucked in half the museum’s air and narrowed her eyes to little slits. “If you think you’ll find a husband with that smart tongue of yours, you’d better think again, missie.” Then she yanked the girl forward. “We’re already late. Stop dawdling.”
And then the two of them disappeared down the corridor.
“And that, my friend, is the other reason to avoid marriage,” Ian said, coming to stand beside Drew. 
“The girl was lovely,” Drew replied, still staring in the direction the two ladies had departed.
“Aye, but the other one…” Ian whistled. “Ye never know when ye’ll wake up next to the other one, and then ye’re trapped the rest of yer days.”
Drew turned his attention back to his friend. There was no reason to resist one’s fate so determinedly. Fate was, after all, fate. “You know your mother will require an heir at some point, don’t you?”
Ian cringed. “Why did ye have to ruin a perfectly fine day?”
“A perfectly fine day?”
The Scot huffed. “Why do ye think I come here to read?”
“Like all frugal Scotsmen, you don’t want to spend money on a library of your own?”
His friend scowled in response. “I have a nicely stocked library at home, I’ll have ye know. But I’ve also got a mother and two sisters making my verra existence a miserable one. And now ye’ve reminded me I’m going to have to marry one of those creatures someday. Ye’re a black-hearted blackguard, Andrew Yeats.”
Drew chuckled. He couldn’t help it. “I didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know, Ian MacLaren.”
“Nay, but ye reminded me of it, and that’s just as bad.”
“Well, you can always delay your fate if you want to abandon Lady Elspeth and head to Sussex with me tomorrow night instead.”
Ian scoffed. “Ye don’t know the first thing about female relations, Drew. I’ve promised those women I’ll take them, and if I don’t do so, they’ll make my life even more miserable than it is now. I’ll have to abandon my own home. I’ll have to find a new place to live. It’s not worth the trouble.”
“You wouldn’t be prone to Scottish exaggerations, now would you?” Drew grinned.
“Ach!” Ian shook his head. “Look at ye, just standing here. Not a care in the world. I ought to make ye come with me to the damned ball.”
“I have been to a ball before, Ian. Lackluster affair. Nothing to get worked up about.”
“Ye went to a soiree, before the season began. It’s hardly the same thing. Simpering young misses line the walls, batting their eyelashes at ye, vying for yer attention. Meanwhile their devious mamas are hatching plans and plotting yer downfall. Some of the more scheming debutants are doing a bit of plotting too, I’d wager.”
“Plotting your downfall?” Drew laughed again. “I think you are exaggerating, my friend.”
“Do ye?” Ian’s brow lifted in question. “Why don’t ye come, then? See for yerself.”
A ball was the last place Drew wanted to be. He wasn’t afraid of devious mamas or scheming debutants, it just wasn’t something he particularly enjoyed. The dreary punch, the stale refreshments, hordes of nice girls. Much too tame for his tastes. “I’ve got Albourne’s tomorrow night, remember?”
“So ye take one night away from the gaming tables? Albourne’ll be glad he willna owe ye any more blunt, and ye can see what these affairs are really like.”
“Why would I possibly want to do that?”
“To keep me company and make up for ruining my day today. Besides—” his friend grinned wickedly “—you’ll need your own heir someday.”
“Touché.” Drew acknowledged his friend’s point with a nod of his head. He would at some point need to find a bride of his own, not that he was in any hurry to do so. After all, Drew had many, many years before he needed to worry about such a thing. But now Ian had made such a fuss about the entire affair, Drew was slightly anxious to prove his friend wrong. “Fine. I’ll go with you. Perhaps we can make it an entertaining evening, one way or another.”
“If ye think I’m going to wager with ye about something, ye’re looking at the wrong man. I know when I’m outmatched.”
* * *
Miss Lucinda Potts bit her tongue as she studied Townley’s Discobolus, wishing she could enjoy the impressive marble without her sister-in-law’s voice echoing off the museum walls. Blast if Lucy’s tongue wasn’t sore from all the biting of it she’d had to do in recent months. In fact, it was a wonder she could still taste her food these days. Still, a sore tongue was better than the alternative—the alternative being her neck stretched on the gallows, which is exactly what would happen to her if she strangled the life out of her new sister-in-law, no matter how much momentary pleasure that might bring. 
“Are you deaf?” her sister-in-law, Baroness Elmstead barked. “Come here, now, Lucy!” 
Come here now? Lady Elmstead spoke as though Lucy was a stubborn sheepdog who refused to budge.  She bit back that particular retort, however, and navigated her way around the marble to stand at her sister-in-law’s side. “Yes, my lady?”
“And don’t take that tone with me.”
Lucy ground her teeth together. She was on her very best behavior as it was. What more could the woman possibly want from her? “I didn’t realize I had a tone,” she said in the sweetest voice she could muster, though it probably came out more like a strangled growl.
Lady Elmstead’s icy, blue eyes narrowed. “Don’t move from this spot. I need to have a word with Mrs. Fitzhugh.”
Poor Mrs. Fitzhugh, in that case. But at least the woman would grant Lucy a much needed reprieve, momentary as it would be. She feigned a demure smile for her sister-in-law and nodded. “I’ll stay right here.” 
With a huff, Lady Elmstead turned on her heel and started for the doorway.  Before Lucy could even breathe a sigh of relief, a baritone voice from behind her said, “If I were you, I’d tell her to go hang.”
Lucy turned slightly to find a broad-shouldered gentleman standing just a few feet away. A rakish grin lit his lips as he pushed his dark blond hair from his brow. “Unfortunately, she’s my brother’s wife, and he’s my guardian. Telling her to go hang would only make my life more miserable,” she said, turning fully to face the interloper.
“What an awful predicament.” His smile widened. “In that case, I might jump a frigate headed for India if I were you.”
Lucy couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her, even if the man’s comment was wholly inappropriate. Running away had certainly crossed her mind more than once over the last few months, though she hadn’t seriously considered the option. “I don’t think India is in my future, sir. The mere idea of cobras will give me nightmares tonight.”
“My apologies.” He chuckled slightly. “Still, you might want reconsider.  The elephants are so nice, after all.”
Elephants? “Have you actually seen one in person?” she asked, stepping closer to the handsome gentleman.
“Several.” He nodded, and his light blue eyes danced with mirth. Then he once again pushed an errant bit of hair from his brow. “I recently spent a year in Bombay.”
“A year in Bombay?” To look at him, the man seemed the epitome of a staid English gentleman in his dark blue coat and buff trousers, not an adventure seeker who traveled to India to spot elephants. “Were you running away from a vicious sister-in-law?”
He laughed again. “Just escaping ordinary life here.”
She must have judged him wrongly then. If he’d simply left to escape ordinary life here, he must be the adventurous sort, after all. There was something wildly fascinating about someone who could just pick up and leave home for one adventure or another. “What was it like? India, I mean.”
“Hot. It even smells warmer, if that makes sense. And lots and lots of color.” He flashed her another smile. “I know a snake charmer there. You could look the fellow up if you’re truly that concerned about the cobras.”
As though she could actually jump a frigate, as he suggested, and head for India. Still, Lucy couldn’t help but nod. “Oh, indeed. If you have his direction that would be most helpful.”
“Lucy!” Lady Elmstead bellowed from the doorway. “What are you doing?”
Lucy smiled at the gentleman. “It was very nice to meet you, sir. I shall consider your suggestion,” she said before turning on her heel and slinking toward her doom…or rather her sister-in-law.

Though they hadn’t actually met, had they? She might never see her adventure seeker again, but he’d planted thoughts of warmer climes, snake charmers, and elephants in Lucy’s mind. And that would make her afternoon alongside her sister-in-law possibly more bearable if nothing else.